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Case Study: Theo Hoppen

Personal details
Degree:MA English Literature and Language Profile picture
School(s): School of English
Year of Graduation:Jun-1997
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: Stowe Family Law LLP
Job title: Solicitor
Occupational Sector: Solicitor
What has been your route to getting your current position?
After graduating, I attended the College of Law (as it then was) for the law conversion course and legal practice course. I trained at a firm in Manchester and, after a spell in London and Yorkshire, returned to the Manchester area to take up my current role at Stowe Family Law.
What does your job involve ?
Most of my day is spent on the telephone to clients advising them on their cases and building a working relationship with them. I also communicate via email and meet my clients in person. In addition, I spend time drafting court papers and attending court. I also communicate with the “other side” (ie the solicitor representing my client’s spouse or partner) by letter, email and telephone.
What are the best bits of your job ?
I enjoy dealing with the clients. Family law is not a dry area of law and I get satisfaction from offering my client’s practical and pragmatic solutions to their problems. They are often going through a tough time and they need me to remain level-headed and objective whilst still being in their corner. The longer I do this job, the more I realise that clients usually are not interested in the law; they just want to know what they should do and what the outcome is likely to be.
Why were you successful?
I think I got my current job because of the types of cases I have handled in my career. I have always worked in privately-funded family work with an emphasis on divorce and the financial settlements that flow from divorce. I like to think that I am approachable and am able to put my clients at ease. I try to offer them reassurance at what is often a very uncertain time in their lives.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
One of the best things my English degree taught me was to think on my feet. It is not the type of degree in which you can cram facts into your head before an exam. Essentially, you have to read a book, and maybe a bit of criticism, and then go into an exam and deal with the question that is thrown at you. Being an English graduate I also try to adopt a clear and succinct writing style. Law is about clarity of thought and expression (like most subjects) and I think my degree, perhaps more than others, placed importance on good writing style. As with most subjects, it taught me how to put together an argument and base that on evidence (ie references to a text) and then draw a conclusion or, more usually, justify the position you decided to adopt in the first place. Lawyers argue “backwards” all the time, if that makes sense. I find that judges are particularly prone to this sometimes! Lawyers often adopt a position which is favourable to their client and then use the facts which support this position to argue their case. This might be intellectually dishonest – not that the client cares - but that is often how it works. I remember in my degree sometimes trying to argue something difficult just for the sake it. No doubt my tutor saw right through this and saw me as a poseur but I have relied on this quite a bit in my career (with varying degrees of success!).
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
It is important to be aware of the commercial realities of being in law. Firms succeed by getting clients, doing the work well and getting paid for it. The last bit is particularly important and one that is sometimes overlooked (hence firms go bust!). I think you can stand out from the crowd when applying for training contracts by having at least a rudimentary understanding of the “business of law”. It also shows that you have done your research and have some idea about what being a solicitor entails.